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Ovechkin Highlight Reel Goal Wins Game for Caps

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Ovechkin Highlight Reel Goal Wins Game for Caps

Posted on 21 November 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin scored one of his patented highlight reel goals and added an assist on Nicklas Backstrom’s first period marker to lead the Caps to a 3-2 victory in Colorado.

Braden Holtby was magnificent in net, stopping 27 shots, and Jason Chimera notched a top shelf marker to give Washington a 2-1 record on their three game road trip.

The Caps improve to 9-7-3 and they take back third place in the Metropolitan Division with 21 points.

More importantly, their captain scored for the first time in four games and it was a goal scorers goal all the way. The Gr8 took the puck in a 4 on 4 situation coming across the offensive blue line and lowered his shoulder on Avs defensemen Jan Hejda moving from forehand to backhand. Ovi went by Hejda, then fired a wicked backhander on Reto Berra (20 saves) that missed the net and came off of the backboards before Ovechkin potted it on the forehand. It was a classic power forward, charge the cage type of tally and one this Capitals team desperately needed after getting outplayed a bit in the final frame. Wow!

Tom Wilson deserves a bit of credit for the goal, as well. #43 stood up for his teammates after a whistle and he goaded Erik Johnson, arguably the Avalanche’s best defensemen, into coincidental minors to set up the open ice situation.

Overall, this was a pretty even contest, as evidenced by the shot attempts, which were 51-50 in favor of the Caps. The face off totals were 24-24 and since both referees let each team play, there was only one power play the entire game (the Caps received that one). Kudos to Jean Hebert and Dan O’Halloran for letting the players decide this one in a game that had a lot of back and forth action.

For Washington, they have to be very pleased with the play of Holtby right now. #70 is making the big save at the right time and looks sharper now than he did all of last season. I’ve maintained all fall that I am not worried about the Caps #1 goaltender and Holtby’s recent results are backing that up.

On defense, the pair of John Carlson and Brooks Orpik led the Caps in ice time with over 24 minutes played and they were a +2. Orpik had an assist, six hits, and six blocked shots. He makes it very difficult for opponents to get pucks and bodies to the net.

The top pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Nathan MacKinnon (2 assists), was fabulous for the Avalanche but it is clear that Colorado badly misses Paul Stastny, who departed to St. Louis in free agency over the summer.

Overall, the Capitals still need to find ways to get more shots on net. They only had 23 on Thursday and they had too many blocked (17). I maintain that the major issue is players are not looking for their shot first and sometimes they are not willing to pay the price to get to the tough scoring areas in the offensive zone.

Fortunately for the Caps their captain stepped up and found the blue paint late in a game when Washington really needed a win.

The Caps continue to be a work in progress, but hopefully for them winning brings more confidence and an even stronger work ethic.

Notes: Mike Green and Neil Schmidt were -2 in this one and received reduced ice time (15:22 and 14:35, respectively). #88 had one of his rougher outings in what has been a very good season for him so far…Ovechkin had 12 shots attempts but only a third of them were on net…Troy Brouwer had 6 shots on goal, many from the doorstep, but Berra denied him on each occasion…next up for the Caps are the Buffalo Sabres at the Verizon Center on Saturday night.

 

 

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Ovechkin, Johansson Lead Caps Over Blue Jackets

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Ovechkin, Johansson Lead Caps Over Blue Jackets

Posted on 11 November 2014 by Ed Frankovic

If you want to make the playoffs and compete for a division title in the NHL, you need to win the games you are supposed to win.

On Tuesday night the Washington Capitals were scheduled to play one of those games against an injury decimated Columbus Blue Jackets squad.

The Caps did just that getting two goals each from Alex Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson and 24 saves from Braden Holtby en route to the club’s 3rd straight victory and just the second in regulation at home.

This one, however, was not pretty.

Washington played an outstanding first frame jumping all over Columbus and grabbing a 3-1 lead. In that opening period the Caps out worked the Blue Jackets getting strong plays from Troy Brouwer on Johansson’s first tally and neutral zone pressure that led to a beautiful Jay Beagle drop pass to Ovechkin for the third marker. The only blemish in those first 20 minutes was a face off goal that occurred after a bad icing by the Capitals. Had the Washington defender taken the single stride he had to get to the red line, there is not a defensive zone draw at all. Unfortunately, the Caps lost that one clean, and Holtby gave up another goal on a long shot that travels through a maze of bodies. Other than Jason Chimera’s interference penalty, there wasn’t much else to pick at in a period the Capitals totally dominated.

But then came the middle stanza where the Capitals looked nothing like the club from the first 20 minutes and Columbus amped their intensity and physical play up and found a way to crawl back into a contest they had no business being in. Holtby allowed a late goal on a shot he initially bobbled and later kicked in, but #70 did make some other strong saves in a period that saw the Blue Jackets out work the Caps.

The third period started the same as the second finished, and Washington was lucky Scott Hartnell hit the cross bar on a 2 on 0 rush after a bad neutral zone turnover by the Caps. For the next 12 minutes or so Columbus would dominate, but Holtby was excellent. Finally the Caps started working hard again and MJ90 took a sweet feed from Andre Burakovsky (two assists) and wrapped home the clincher.

Again, this was a game the Capitals were supposed to win, and they did that. They improve to 7-5-3 (17 points) and will next face the New Jersey Devils at the Verizon Center on Friday night.

On the positive side, it was good to see the Caps not give up a goal in the third period and it was nice that they finally scored to get a two goal cushion back. The Caps haven’t been able to close teams out until the buzzer since early in the season victories over the Devils and Bruins. Holtby, like he did on Friday in Chicago, clamped down when he had to, plus he caught a break on Hartnell’s cross bar shot. Johansson continues to be a major positive playing with Brouwer and Burakovsky too. MJ90 now has eight goals in just 15 games and he’s shooting more and getting to the cage more often. He’s clearly benefitting from the Barry Trotz regime so far.

On the down side, this team still has prolonged stretches where they are very sloppy and to me that’s a work ethic issue. This Caps team has lots of talent but it is almost like they get too proud of themselves at times and forget you have to consistently move your feet to be successful. When Washington works hard, they win the puck battles and dominate with their superior talent. They still haven’t figured out yet how to keep that up more consistently.

So on Tuesday the Caps got another win, but to me, there’s still lots of room for improvement and I’ll continue to call this team a work in progress. But that’s okay when there are still 67 games to play.

Notes: Columbus won the shot attempt battle, 59-56. The Caps dominated the first period but then it was mostly Blue Jackets over the final 40 minutes. Some of that is score effects but most of it is on Washington’s work ethic…the Caps dominated from the dot, 41-25, but they once again allowed a face off goal against. Coaches despise that!..Karl Alzner had two super blocked shots on the Blue Jackets third period power play when the score was 3-2…referees Tim Kowal and Steve Kozari called a very good game, about the only gripe you could have with them was the missed slash by David Savard on Brouwer in period two. Dirty play there by the Blue Jacket.

 

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Backstrom, Ovechkin Help Caps Survive Canes

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Backstrom, Ovechkin Help Caps Survive Canes

Posted on 09 November 2014 by Ed Frankovic

After blowing a two goal third period lead as a result of a bad turnover and poor goaltending, the Washington Capitals needed their star players to step up and bail the team out.

Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom did just that with 14 seconds left in overtime as #19 fired home the long rebound of a rocket of a shot by the Gr8 that Carolina goalie Anton Khudobin (35 saves) had no chance to handle cleanly. The 4-3 victory was the second win in two nights for the Caps and they improve to 6-5-3 (15 points).

This was a game the Capitals could not afford to lose and they came out ultra strong, out shooting the Canes, 18-3, in the first frame. But Khudobin was pretty good in net and the Capitals gave up a late power play goal and only led 2-1. The second period went okay for the Caps and Eric Fehr scored to give Washington a 3-1 advantage heading into the final frame. But except for Washington’s second line, much of the play was spent in Washington’s own end and Carolina out shot the Caps 14-8 to scratch and claw their way to OT.

Still, if Fehr doesn’t get stripped by Jeff Skinner to lead to Eric Staal’s tally and Peters doesn’t allow a long goal off of a d-zone face off loss, Washington wins in regulation. But things have not been easy for the Capitals early this season. It seems that any little mistake they make results in a goal against right now.

The good news is this team overcame the errors and earned a much needed win. Overall they dominated Carolina over the 64+ minutes out shot attempting them 74-56. The Caps also won 38 of 69 draws, although they lost some key ones in their own zone in the final frame.

On the bad side of the ledger, Peters (24 saves) is not giving the team the solid backup goaltending it needs. His last two starts have been struggles and he was fortunate to get a victory tonight. Two of the three goals were of the long range variety. In addition, Tom Wilson left in the second period with an apparent lower body muscle injury. This news was not needed after it was learned that Brooks Laich was injured once again (upper body) Friday in Chicago and will need to be re-evaluated.

The Wilson loss hurts the rotation as he was fitting in nicely with Ovechkin and Backstrom. Coach Barry Trotz’ second line of Marcus Johansson, Andre Burakovsky, and Troy Brouwer played extremely well on Saturday and the Gang Green line of Fehr, Joel Ward, and Jason Chimera has been really good too. So if Wilson is out for Tuesday’s game, Trotz has a tough dilemma on his line combinations against Columbus. Jay Beagle filled in for Wilson after the injury, but despite a goal on Saturday (before he was with 8 and 19), he’s not a top 6 forward. So to me, the best option is to put Beagle on the Gang Green line at center and move Fehr up with Backstrom and Ovechkin. The other option would be to slot Evgeny Kuznetsov somewhere in the top nine.

Injuries are a part of the game, so Trotz and company will just have to battle through up front and be happy they have some decent depth.

On the back end, the team continues to be really solid. Nate Schmidt is playing some excellent hockey so the top six defensemen have been very strong. Because all three pairs have been mostly consistent, Trotz can keep the ice time fairly close and not worry about performance drop offs in back to back contests. It’s a nice luxury to have a deep and quality blue line, something this club has not been able to accurately say for several years.

So the end result on Saturday was another dominating puck possession game for Washington. They haven’t been able to translate those into easy wins, though. On Saturday, a key turnover and some shaky goaltending prevented that. In addition, the Capitals are struggling to finish off their grade A chances. 3 of the 4 goals involved lucky bounces so that made up for not converting on the quality opportunities.

However, the Capitals got the key finish when they needed it by Backstrom. Ovechkin’s decision to shoot, and fire hard, was a great one. Good things happen when you put the puck and bodies on net. Washington is getting better in that department. So if they keep maintaining puck possession, they could reel off a nice winning streak if they limit turnovers, penalties, and get some consistent goaltending.

Notes: Oveckhin led the Caps in ice time with 23:39. John Carlson (two assists) was next with 23:35…Backstrom was 16-9 on draws and it looked like the linesman didn’t drop the puck fairly on the draw he lost that led to the tying goal (and Peters needed to make that save)…Kuznetsov only played 9:23, but because of his skating ability (OT is 4 on 4 play), he did receive a shift in overtime…the Caps will not practice on Sunday and they play Columbus at home on Tuesday at the Verizon Center.

 

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Fluke Goal Costs Caps in Overtime Loss

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Fluke Goal Costs Caps in Overtime Loss

Posted on 05 November 2014 by Ed Frankovic

The hockey gods are clearly testing the Washington Capitals.

Despite dominating a very hard working Calgary Flames team for nearly 55 minutes, the Caps found themselves in a tie game on a bizarre play I’m not sure I’ve seen since the Caps inception in 1974.

An errant Washington pass put the puck in the slot in front of Braden Holtby. Marcus Johansson, who was in perfect defensive position, did the smart thing and tried to quickly knock it out of harms way. In the process, the puck went off of Troy Brouwer’s skate and bounced back five feet or so into the net behind Holtby for the tying tally with 5:10 to go in regulation.

Are you kidding me?

After all of the hard work and effort the Capitals put into this contest surely they deserved better at that point, right?

They had played a text book 3rd period and all evening their puck support was excellent. Colossal defensive turnovers, like we’ve seen too much of recently, were not present in this game and the Caps generated lots of offensive zone time and chances.

Unfortunately the Caps struggled to bury many of those chances, totally missing the net on some that were of the grade A variety. That’s been a trend during their losing skid, which is now at five straight games (and they’ve lost six of their last seven). They did, however, manage to get a point in this loss when they were defeated, in overtime, 4-3.

Afterwards Coach Barry Trotz was not upset at all, except for the outcome. His team had come to play hard and stick to the system and for the most part, they did.

The players were clearly frustrated afterwards with Matt Niskanen telling me that “losing sucks.” But he also knew that the team had played the game the right way on Tuesday night.

Alex Ovechkin picked up two assists to seize the franchise all time points lead from Peter Bondra and he nearly set up the game winner late in regulation when he blocked a Dennis Wideman point shot, skated down the ice and found Nicklas Backstrom streaking towards the net. Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist) would take a nice cross ice pass from Ovechkin and feed Tom Wilson on the door step, but “Willy” was unable to lift the puck and Jonas Hiller (31 saves) made the stop of the game to send the tilt to OT.

Looking at the stats, Washington was dominant. They out shot attempted the Flames 68-48 and they won the face off battle 42-30 with Michael Latta going 13-6. It was a very strong effort.

The glass half empty folks will point to Mike Green’s -4 and Holtby allowing 4 goals on only 23 shots. I didn’t think either one of them played a bad game. Green was tripped on the first Calgary goal and interfered with in the neutral zone on the second, but the zebras chose not to call a Flames penalty. I’m not sure how Holtby could possibly have saved the 3rd goal? Finally, on the Flames game winner, Niskanen lost an edge in the neutral zone and that allowed Calgary to set the winning play up.

But the naysayers will likely be out in full force and as Taylor Swift says, “the haters gonna hate, hate, hate..” and there will be many that pile on Green and Holtby.

Hopefully the players tune it out. In fact the whole team needs to do what they did after the third goal, show resolve and play harder. There was no moping or hanging of heads after that flukey third Flames goal, which is encouraging. Losing stinks and this team is probably wondering what they need to do to get a win.

To me, it’s pretty simple, just keep focusing on playing the right way and not try things out of your comfort zone, which they did too much of against Arizona on Sunday.

Trotz noted after the game that “usually the harder you work, the luckier you get.” Calgary has been working hard and Barry noted they are one of the hardest working teams in the league. Trotz felt that the Caps worked harder than Calgary on Tuesday night, but his club wasn’t rewarded.

That’s hockey. You hope during the course of 82 games that things will even out, especially if you are working hard and playing the right way.

So at this point all the Caps can do is keeping working harder within the framework of their system and as the main part of that songs says, just “Shake it Off.”

N0tes: Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 23:48. He and Karl Alzner had a very strong game. Wilson had an assist in 13:28 of ice time and was a physical presence. He did get juked badly by Mark Giordano, who is a top pair defensemen, on the Flames second goal…Joel Ward scored his sixth goal of the season on a 5 on 3 Caps power play in the middle frame. ..next up for the Caps are the Chicago Blackhawks in the windy city on Friday night. The Capitals then come home on Saturday against a Carolina squad that’s won three games in a row after a horrible start. The return of Eric Staal has helped get the Canes going.

 

 

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Ovechkin, Holtby Lead Caps Over Devils, 6-2

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Ovechkin, Holtby Lead Caps Over Devils, 6-2

Posted on 16 October 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Barry Trotz frequently calls the NHL a “Shoot First” league.

On Thursday night at the Verizon Center, his players took his advice and were rewarded with six biscuits in the basket in what became a 6-2 rout of the previously undefeated New Jersey Devils (3-1). Alex Ovechkin, Chris Brown, Marcus Johansson, Nicklas Backstrom, Joel Ward, and Andre Burakovsky all notched goals and Braden Holtby was outstanding stopping 26 of 28 shots.

Seriously, if Holtby is not dead on his game in the first frame, this contest could have easily gone differently. The only two markers #70 allowed were through traffic and he routinely made the big save in the first 30 minutes until the Capitals wore out the oldest team in the league over the last half of the game. Holtby’s arm save on Jaromir Jagr was highlight reel material and it came with the game tied at two (special thanks to my friends at Russian Machine Never Breaks for the picture of that save). Jagr was in total disbelief after that stop.

After being out shot attempted 29-13 in period one, the Capitals turned the tables on New Jersey going 43-27 over the last two frames. Washington is well on their way to being a puck possession team again, especially if they keep heeding the wisdom of Trotz.

Johansson, who has been known mostly as a passer since he came into the league in 2010, unleashed a filthy snap shot by Cory Schneider in the middle frame to notch the game winner. In the past, MJ90 may have tried to make a move or looked to dish the puck, but instead, under the prodding of his coach, he is firing away. Good things happen when you shoot.

Positive things also happen from winning the board battles and the Capitals are doing much better there this season. Brooks Laich’s hard work on the wall allowed Johansson to receive the puck in a prime scoring position. It’s the little things that win hockey games and this club is doing more of that so far.

So the Caps are now 2-0-2 with the only two losses coming in the gimmick. They trail the New York Islanders (4-0) by two points in the Metropolitan Division.

But it is too early to be checking the standings. It’s a time to build on an early strong work ethic and continue to listen to an experienced coach who has this Capitals team playing as a unit unlike we’ve seen in several seasons. A strong blue line is making a huge difference and the Caps now are a team that can break the puck out of their own end smoothly and generate quick offense. Sure, there are still moments where they get hemmed in, like we saw in the first frame, but they are learning that if they keep playing the system they will eventually win out.

Things are looking up and the vibe around the team and players is so much more positive than it has been in several years.

The key now is to keep working hard and stay the course.

Notes: John Carlson led the Caps in ice time at 21:23. That’s a low total and it is a product of the depth on defense and the fact that the Capitals pulled away in the 3rd period…12 Caps had points in this one…Andre Burakovsky scored his 2nd goal of the season in the 3rd period with an amazing wrist shot and Chris Brown’s goal in the first frame was a laser over the shoulder of Schneider…next up for the Caps are the Florida Panthers at the Verizon Center on Saturday night at 7pm.

 

 

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Ovechkin and Caps Off to a Fast Start

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Ovechkin and Caps Off to a Fast Start

Posted on 15 October 2014 by Ed Frankovic

On Tuesday night at the Verizon Center, the Washington Capitals rallied from a 3-0 first period deficit to force a 5-5 tie before ultimately losing in the gimmick to one of the best teams in the NHL, the San Jose Sharks. It was a thrilling game in which Alexander Ovechkin was the best player on the ice notching two goals and an assist. After three tilts the Capitals are 1-0-2, losing both games in the shootout, and the Gr8 has four goals and an assist over that span.

If you’ve watched the first three games of the Washington Capitals season, then you’ve seen the night and day difference in this hockey club from Caps teams in recent years. The blue line depth is something this organization has not seen in the Ovechkin era and Coach Barry Trotz has the personnel playing to their strengths and easily allowing elite players like the Gr8 and Mike Green to buy in, something that numerous people in the hockey media questioned prior to the season. Ovechkin went down to block a shot in the first period, added another block later on, had 14 shot attempts (including 8 on Antti Niemi), and five hits to go with his offensive output. He was more than worth the price of admission on Tuesday night.

After Ovechkin, in the game against the Sharks, the next best player on the rink was Green. #52 was absolutely fabulous with a goal, an assist, and it was his pass to Jason Chimera down the left wing boards that sprung #25 allowing him to draw a key penalty that led to Ovechkin’s goal that brought this one to 5-4 with just under six minutes left. Green would then feed Troy Brouwer less than two minutes later down the left wing boards for the game tying tally prompting the Verizon Center to erupt.

Simply put, if Green continues to play like he’s done in his first two games this Capitals club is going to be very, very good.

Why do I see Green continuing to play at the top of his game?

First, he’s being afforded the freedom to play to his strengths, which is carrying the puck and creating offense and space for his teammates.

“I think he doesn’t limit you, you obviously have to play within the system but he wants you to create and do the things you do well as a player and he encourages that,” said Green when asked about Trotz allowing creativity in contrast to the “five foot rule” that Adam Oates preferred the past two seasons.

Second, he’s in a system that will bring out the best in his defensive side of the ice.

“I feel good, the system and the way we play is very detailed and yet very easy to play. Although there is a lot of thinking, it’s great for the defensemen what they’re asking of us, and I feel very comfortable. There’s a plan for every situation on the ice and it’s just a matter of executing,” added Green.

Third, with the addition of Matt Niskanen, along with 2014 Team USA Olympian John Carlson, the Capitals are loaded on the right side of the blue line. Therefore, Game Over Greenie doesn’t have to log all of the hard minutes like he’s had to do in the past. Green only played 22:08 of the 65 minutes, but because of that, he was super fresh down the stretch and he was a major difference maker in the Capitals comeback.

“It’s great, I felt like I played a lot, I’m not sure how much, but I still had my legs at the end of the game, even in overtime, so when in the past maybe you’re playing a little bit more and there is more responsibility on yourself, but there’s three guys that can play, so it’s great,” said Green about the ability of the team to spread the ice time on defense.

Overall, Green looks to be as happy as I’ve seen him in several years thanks to the deep blue line that GM Brian MacLellan has assembled for 2014-15.

“Absolutely, the depth we have is incredible. It’s just a matter of being consistent every night,” finished Green.

Consistency is always an issue in hockey. The Capitals had some problems there on Tuesday, falling behind 3-0 in the first 10 minutes. Braden Holtby, who had thwarted 52 of 53 shots in the first two games, was unable to come up with a big save after some Capitals turnovers and was replaced by Justin Peters. Peters allowed two goals on 16 shots but he yielded juicy rebounds on both tallies against him. In addition, there were missed passes and mistakes by different players. Evgeny Kuznetsov, who overall had a strong game (1 assist), missed a breakout pass from Brooks Orpik that was right on his stick and that directly led to John Scott’s tally that made it 3-0. Those mistakes should get cleaned up over time, especially ones by younger players like Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky (1 assist).

Still, you have to be pleased with the way this team held together mentally and didn’t pack it in when it was 3-0, 4-1, and even 5-3 early in period three. The club is talented and believes in the system they are playing which aids their ability to rally.

So it’s three games in and the Capitals have yet to be defeated prior to the gimmick. The four points in the three games have all come against 2013-14 playoff teams so it’s fair to say Washington is off to a fast start.

This club has a lot of skill and a talented blue line. The depth on defense is something this organization has lacked in recent years and is a major reason why I see the team continuing to improve.

Notes: Despite Carlson (two assists) having a rough first 50+ minutes, #74 didn’t let that bother him and he was pretty much a one man penalty killing unit at the end of regulation and early in overtime as Washington survived a Nicklas Backstrom (two assists) high stick…the Caps were smoked at the dot, 13-5, in the first frame but rallied to finish 32-33 for the night…shot attempts were 71-56 in favor of the Capitals, who dominated puck possession for much of the last 55 minutes…Niskanen led the Capitals and Sharks in ice time with 26:47 and he was superb at both ends of the rink…the Caps next game is Thursday night at 7 pm against the New Jersey Devils at the Verizon Center.

 

 

 

 

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How Are the Caps Evolving Under Barry Trotz?

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How Are the Caps Evolving Under Barry Trotz?

Posted on 27 September 2014 by Ed Frankovic

After only eight days and four pre-season games, it’s too early to tangibly see the impact new Coach Barry Trotz is having on the Washington Capitals, but rest assured, “change” is occurring. In the fourth installment of an eight game exhibition set, the Caps knocked off the Boston Bruins, 5-4, on Troy Brouwer’s overtime marker. The win included two Alex Ovechkin power play goals.

Neither squad fielded their full regular season lineup in an entertaining tilt that saw Washington rally from a 4-2 deficit, something Trotz was very pleased about afterwards.

“One thing I liked about our team tonight, we had mud in our faces; sand kicked in our faces there. We were down by two goals. It’s easy to go, ‘Oh, it’s preseason. Let’s play this out.’ We didn’t do that. We stayed on it, we chipped away and we got ourselves… if this was a regular season win that would have been a real big win. Those are the learning things that we have to learn. Let’s make it easy on ourselves. If we don’t turn those pucks over, then we’ve got a chance to get points every night.”

Turnovers were certainly an issue for the Caps in the first two periods combined with some poor defensive coverage, at times. The new bench boss attributed the miscues to individual play and poor decisions, citing that it’s just a matter of not trying the low percentage play. Matt Niskanen had a bad giveaway on the Bruins second goal but overall, #2 was excellent on the blue line for Washington. He kept pucks in the offensive zone at the point on several occasions, including one on the game tying goal by Liam O’Brien. With Niskanen, John Carlson, and Mike Green the Caps have a set of right handed d-men that arguably are as good as any other team in the NHL.

So how is the team adapting to Coach Trotz and what is different from previous regimes?

WNST chatted with Steve Olesky following the game to get his take on that.

WNST: What are your thoughts on the big transition and what can be done in just eight days, including four preseason games?

Oleksy: It’s hard, I think they’ve done a great job of taking the time through video and on-ice teaching us the systems, but with the number of guys that came into camp, the start of camp you’ve got three teams, it’s hard for everybody to get the reps they need to feel comfortable with the new systems. I think through the four exhibition games now, we’ve gotten stronger and more comfortable with the new systems.

WNST: What do you think is the biggest change?

Oleksy: I think one of the biggest changes is how aggressive we play and it’s more defensive minded, which I think in the long run is going to be really successful for us. Obviously everybody talks we have great offense and we’re going to get our chances and we’re going to score, but limiting their chances. As we do feel more comfortable with the systems I think we will cut those chances down even more.

WNST: As defensemen, what’s different? What strategy does Barry prefer you do in front of the net, front shots or box out?

Oleksy: He wants us fronting shots, which I think is going to play to our advantage as well. We’ve got a lot of fast guys up front and as defensemen, if we can step in front of a shot and knock it down and spring them with their speed that’s going to create chances. That’s a new change for us and then obviously taking care of the house, protecting the net and playing hard there will limit a lot of those rebound goals, those second and third chance goals that I think we’ve given up in the past.

WNST: Is there anything different on the break out?

Oleksy: It’s pretty similar, he wants us to feel comfortable. At this level, I think everybody thinks the game well enough to make hockey decisions. He puts that in our hands, which is nice, that way you are giving teams different looks and it’s not so robotic. I think that’s a good thing for us, especially with the skill there on the back end between guys like Niskanen, Green, Carlson and over on the left hand side with Alzner and Hillen. I think when you let those guys get creative I think they are going to create a lot of offense too.

What’s most interesting in those quotes from Oleksy is the “not so robotic” statement. Some thought that a guy like Trotz would come in and employ a rigid system that was not flexible, yet clearly he is adapting things to fit his talent. The Capitals have a lot of skill and Trotz realizes he has to maximize it.

So with just 12 days until the season opener on October 9th, the Capitals are evolving, but they have a lot of work left to do to make sure they come out of the gate quickly and put a terrible 2013-14 campaign behind them.

Notes: Brouwer had the game winner but Trotz noted he had heavy legs on Friday night. That was obvious as Evgeny Kuznetsov looked pretty good as second line center but with #20 being fatigued and Brooks Laich still trying to get his timing back, the line just didn’t work well for 40 minutes and Trotz took Laich off of the line and inserted Chris Conner…the Caps were 27-31 on faceoffs but outshot Boston 29-23. Total shot attempts were 55-45 in favor of the Caps.

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Next GM Most Important Decision in Caps Franchise History

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Next GM Most Important Decision in Caps Franchise History

Posted on 28 April 2014 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals have been in existence for 39 years and they still have not won a Stanley Cup.

With their team spiraling further away from winning Lord Stanley, Caps Owner Ted Leonsis and Team President Dick Patrick fired both General Manager George McPhee and Head Coach Adam Oates on Saturday.

Those moves were no surprise, especially if you read my blog from two weeks ago. The Capitals have a flawed and unbalanced roster that became even more exposed under some questionable coaching decisions this past season.

Simply put, these moves had to be made and Leonsis stated that the team needed new leadership and “a new set of eyes.”

The hiring of the next GM is critical to this franchise given that star players Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, who are both signed to long term contracts, are in the prime seasons of their career. McPhee and company were unable to put a quality team around those two players and as a result much criticism has fallen on them, especially the Gr8.

Some who cover the NHL have already tweeted or blogged that this is Ovechkin’s fault. When you make the money he makes, have won the MVP three times, aren’t of North American descent, and haven’t won a Stanley Cup yet, those things will happen. It’s an easy narrative for those who choose to be lazy and biased.

But those who’ve studied and watched this Washington team since 2008 know the real story. Fancy stats clearly show that this team’s puck possession statistics have steadily declined since 2009, after Sergei Fedorov left for Russia. The decline is a function of an eroding roster, particularly on defense, and poor coaching/system changes. None of those roster or system decisions were made by Ovechkin.

Hall of Famer Rod Langway used to always tell me that hockey starts from the goalie to the defense and then to the forwards. If your defense routinely can’t get the puck out of your own end, how are the forwards going to produce with any consistency at even strength? Washington’s overall blue line crew has gotten worse over the past several seasons.

Bottom line, as I wrote two weeks ago, the Caps have failed Ovechkin, not the other way around.

For those who still want to put a vast amount of blame on him I pose the following question:

If I gave you the choice of any other forward in the NHL in place of Ovechkin for the last three seasons, would the Capitals have won a Stanley Cup or even made the Finals?

That’s right, you could have Jonathan Toews, Ryan Getzlaf, Sidney Crosby, etc. but you lose Ovechkin in that move. Do you think the Capitals win a Stanley Cup doing that?

No way, not with the rest of that roster.

Hockey is a team sport. So blaming Ovechkin for the team’s decline is absolutely incorrect.

Now that’s not saying that the Gr8 can’t improve his game. Every player can always get better. NBA great Larry Bird used to spend every summer working on new moves, so if Bird thought he needed to improve, every player certainly should be trying to do so, as well.

Fortunately for Caps fans, the ownership, despite making it clear that these moves weren’t done solely for Ovechkin, get that the Gr8 is a special player. When I asked both Leonsis and Patrick about the pressure and abuse that Ovechkin takes, Patrick was quick to defend him and point out the nature of the NHL.

“Alex Ovechkin is a great, great hockey player,” Patrick said. “I wish we had two of him, then we wouldn’t even be here today, probably. All he wants to do is win. People are saying, ‘Well, you’ve got Alex Ovechkin. How come you haven’t won a Cup?’ It does take a team. It takes 20 guys. How can you be unhappy with what Alex Ovechkin has accomplished and continues to accomplish in the National Hockey League?”

Patrick is bang on and that is why it is so crucial to get a GM that really understands how to build a team. The “new set of eyes” needs to help alleviate the pressure on its two stars by bringing in better players, particularly on the blue line, and by adding leaders with winning experience.

As the great Jim Ignatowski once said on Taxi, “There is no substitute for experience!”

That brings me to my next point. The trend in sports is to seek out the next “hot” assistant and give him the keys to the camper. We see it with GM positions and head coaching openings many times in pro sports.

Jim Benning of Boston is a name that is on the top of the “next GM” list for many NHL clubs, according to people I’ve spoken with around the league. There are other hot assistants out there too like Ron Hextall, Jason Botterill, and Tim Burke.

But would hiring another hockey person with no GM experience be the right move here?

Hmmm…..

Sometimes bringing in a person that has performed in that role previously is the better choice, even if they’ve been fired. After all, Joe Torre and Bill Belichick were both fired but went on to win multiple championships with their new teams. Simply put, there is something to be said for learning from past mistakes.

So shouldn’t names like Mike Gillis, Neil Smith, and Craig Button garner attention? All have been a GM before and both Smith and Button have Stanley Cup winning experience, Smith as GM of the Rangers in 1994 and Button as the Director of Player Personnel with Dallas in 1999.

To me, Button is an intriguing option. He has ties to the organization from his late father Jack, who played a prominent role in the drafting and development of personnel in Washington from 1979 to 1996. Craig worked closely for years with Bob Gainey and Doug Armstrong in Dallas taking a team that was built around young players Mike Modano, Derian Hatcher, and Richard Matvichuck and transformed it into a Stanley Cup Champion. He understands the microscope Ovechkin and Backstrom are under and he has a successful track record in dealing with that scenario.

In addition, he took a flailing Calgary Flames team and re-built the defense on a club that eventually went to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2004. Then GM and Coach Darryl Sutter credited Craig for laying the groundwork for a squad that came ultra close to winning it all.

He currently covers the NHL for the NHL Network and TSN but he also pays close attention to the junior ranks and publishes his own draft board each spring on TSN’s website. His knowledge of current pros and amateurs is extensive. With the Stars, he drafted both Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow. As someone in the business recently told me, “He’s hard working, dedicated, and has an incredible passion for the game.”

Given his excellent people skills, I’d have to imagine he is on Leonsis and Patrick’s current list to interivew.

As for that process, Leonsis made it clear that they were not going to conduct a search where information is going to be made publicly available. Certainly details will get exposed as the media scouts out Kettler IcePlex, but the Caps are pretty good at keeping things secretive.

Leonsis stated this was going to be a thorough search while putting no timetable on its conclusion.

Given the importance of this decision, which I believe is the most critical one in franchise history, the owner and Team President must do what they need to do to make sure they get this GM selection correct.

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Ovechkin, Backstrom, Halak Pace Caps Over Hawks

Posted on 11 April 2014 by Ed Frankovic

It was game 81 of 82 and instead of gearing up for the playoffs, the Washington Capitals are playing out the string.

The good news is that Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom notched a goal and an assist each and Jaroslav Halak made 34 saves in a 4-0 blanking of the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. Before getting too excited over the win, take notice that the Hawks didn’t have their three best players in the lineup in Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Duncan Keith.

Washington looked like the only club interested in participating in this tilt and they carried much of the play for two periods. The total shot attempts for the game were 64-55 in favor of Chicago, but the Blackhawks did most of their damage in the third period (17 shots on goal). Hitting was relatively non-existent and only 21 were credited in total for the night. Basically this was like another pre-season contest.

Jay Beagle took advantage of a depleted Chicago lineup and had his first ever NHL two goal game. #83 is a guy who never complains and brings his best effort every day to the organization, so it is great to see a lunch pail guy who is just happy to be able to contribute get two goals. Beagle has as good of an attitude as any player I’ve ever been around in my 39 years of following and covering the NHL.

Ovechkin scored his league leading 51st goal to open the scoring on the power play and Backstrom’s tally from a bad angle gave the tandem an even strength goal later on. On the evening the Caps were 1 for 3 with the man advantage while Washington killed off all three Chicago power plays.

The win moves the Caps to 38-30-13 with Sunday’s final game against Tampa looming. No doubt the Bolts will be resting any of their banged up players as they have a playoff series coming next week.

For the Caps, this is the last game in which this club, as configured, will be together.

Notes: The Capitals won the face-off battle, 27-17. Backstrom was 8-2…Marcus Johansson was injured in period two and did not return. He’s been ruled out of Sunday’s final game…Coach Adam Oates pretty much rolled the lines on Friday night so the ice time was evenly spread across the board.

 

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Caps miss playoffs for first time in seven years

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Caps miss playoffs for first time in seven years

Posted on 10 April 2014 by Ed Frankovic

It was only a few seasons ago that the Washington Capitals were considered Stanley Cup favorites.

They were a young team on the rise that just needed to make some improvements in the talent level on the ice and also in the leadership department. I wrote about those very things just three springs ago.

Unfortunately, the team did very little of what I suggested in that blog from May of 2011.

Three seasons later, they have missed the post season for the first time in seven years.

It’s not surprising to me. Just two games into the season I blogged that the defensive personnel was an area of concern. The weaknesses on defense ended up dooming this Capitals club. Washington used 14 different defensemen in 2013-14, many of which had little to no prior NHL experience. It was a big time gamble by GM George McPhee and it failed miserably. Add the poor personnel to the fact that the coaching staff didn’t properly address the talent weaknesses with system modifications, going so far as to try changing goalie Braden Holtby’s style, and you have the recipe for a bad season.

Simply put, this club needs big time changes off of the ice and on it. McPhee has had 17 years to try and win a Stanley Cup in Washington and he hasn’t done it. It’s time for some new blood in the GM slot. With a new GM comes a new coaching staff and that is needed as well. Sure Adam Oates didn’t have the talent he wanted, but his staff’s inability to adapt made things worse.

In addition, Washington had three players ask for trades this year. Those kind of things are major warning signs of an organization gone wrong.

On the ice, it’s pretty clear this team needs to be built around Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom, and John Carlson. Braden Holtby, who was invited to Team Canada’s Olympic camp last summer, would be my choice to be the #1 goalie. I still don’t understand why the club tried to change his game this season when he’d been so successful in the past?

Anyways, Tom Wilson and Evgeny Kuznetsov are promising young players that you can add to the mix that should play a bigger role next season.

As for the rest, they are fair game.

Washington does have salary cap room heading into next season so they have some flexibility to address some of their major holes.

They need talent and leadership on and off of the ice.

Owner Ted Leonsis and Team President Dick Patrick need to find the right person to lead this ship in the GM slot. Bringing someone in with Stanley Cup winning experience seems paramount.

Time is ticking on the careers of Ovechkin and Backstrom so the Caps can’t afford to swing and miss again this summer.

Stay tuned.

 

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